New York, I Love You

New York City. How could it get any better than this? Two videos hit YouTube this week, and both serve to remind the 19.4 million people who live here why they don’t leave.

How spectacular is a city that can have such schizophrenic tastes? Discussing highbrow publications in one moment, and in the next, riding the subway without pants?

See the magic yourself in these two quickies:

They say you have to live here for 10 years before you can call yourself a New Yorker, but the truth is, this place will become your instant home the moment you realize you’re a weirdo just like the rest of us.


Falling Under the Spell of Barcelona’s Tibidabo

Below is my latest Huffington Post Travel post, Falling Under The Spell Of Barcelona’s Tibidabo. You can see the full article (with my favorite photo!) here.

Before touching down in Barcelona to live and study for four months I had never heard of Tibidabo. I was familiar with Barcelona’s major highlights otherwise, such as Gaudí’s masterpieces and the smaller mountain of Montjuïc. I would only see that episode of Friends later, and though I had briefly visited the city before, I had somehow missed Tibidabo entirely, an impressive feat considering it is the highest point in the city.

In one of my first weeks in Barcelona I saw Vicky Cristina Barcelona, Woody Allen’s amorous ode to Barcelona and its wiles. I remember the sepia-tone scene on Tibidabo most clearly and fondly of all: An angelic Scarlett Johansson walks past the rides of one of the world’s oldest amusement parks, meters and meters above the city, conversing with the irresistible Javier Bardem and pulling at tufts of feathery cotton candy. Even dubbed in Catalan, it was perfect. I remember feeling bittersweet and nostalgic, though I was in Barcelona and had never been to Tibidabo before. It looked and felt like a place I had already visited, a place to where I longed to return.

Within the week I was on Tibidabo. I ended up there in one of those opportune moments that materialize during travels when curiosity, boldness and serendipity coalesce, when circumstances just lead you there and you cannot say no, because you would only regret it later. They are the moments that you call upon months and years afterward, often with stories that begin with, “Remember that time…” This was that time I ended up on top of Tibidabo, otherwise hushed and empty except for us, with all of Barcelona sprawled at our feet, shimmering in the night right down to the edge of the Mediterranean. I sat on a bench of the cathedral, chills from both the temperature and the scene. Craning my head all the way back, the enormous Jesus figure topping the basilica seemed to touch the sky. Slightly below I could make out darkened outlines of the still rides.

I would return to Tibidabo on other nights, though not as high as to look straight up and see a stone Jesus embracing the sky, but far up still to the few bars perched on the mountain. They were my favorite nightspots in the city. While maybe only a few people knew each other, it always felt like some sort of intimate party thrown for those of us who had made it all the way up there. We were on top of the city and therefore we felt like we were on top of the world, but at the same we were in awe of it all. Conversing or dancing we would forget where we were, and then one spin or a glance to the side and there was the entire city spread out front for our admiration.

Below were the tiny, twisted alleys of the Gothic Quarter, the turrets of Catalan Modernist architecture poking into the sky and that arresting creative energy. Maybe those details were indiscernible from such heights, but it was there in Barcelona all the same and we knew it.

I wrapped up my time in Barcelona with a daytime visit to the Tibidabo amusement park. The place was classic, spellbinding and so old that no one was too old. Small families, affectionate couples and clusters of friends were zigging in and out of the antique rides, riding to the pinnacle of the Ferris Wheel, passing warped fun-house mirrors and circling on the carousel. In it all, behind and below it all was the grandeur of the city; the history of the park, mountain and Barcelona.

I snapped one of my favorite pictures at the end of that day right after the sun had set. The photo remains as the background of my computer, and I think it might always be. For me, Tibidabo became emblematic of Barcelona and of what made me fall in love with the city. Since Barcelona I like to think there is a Tibidabo everywhere I travel, that one place that can come to represent my connection to the destination and some of my favorite moments there, and I always try to find it.

Tibidabo Barcelona at Night

Mendoza, Argentina wine tasting with Anuva Wines

Last week I had the pleasure of attending an Anuva Wines tasting to sample some of Mendoza’s finest grapes. Dan Karlin, one of the personalities behind the previously blogged-about BA Cast, invited me to the event, which was held at the sweetly French Rendez-Vous Hotel in Palermo Hollywood.

Five other Americans traveling through Buenos Aires were also present for the tasting, and we were all seated together at a table, filled with Anuva wine glasses and large, triangular white plates holding tapas to accompany the wine. The number was perfect; everyone had a chance to converse with each other, chatting about their travels, impressions of Buenos Aires and just how much they loved the wines we were trying.

The tasting was relaxed and informative, and something I am sure any wine lover would enjoy, whether he or she were a budding connoisseur or didn’t know a word of wine vocabulary. We tried each of the wines, by smelling and discussing first, tasting it and sharing our feedback, then trying each accompanied with the food pairings. Our host Sarah offered explanations and guidance, and we learned about Argentine history and along the way. I have visited vineyards in Mendoza and picked up a bit about Argentina in my 11 months in Buenos Aires, and I still learned quite a bit of new information about the country and its wines. (For example: The devastating Argentine economic crisis in 2001 actually helped propel the country’s wines into the global market.)

I expected the wines to be excellent, as they were, but what really impressed me was the food pairings. I had not expected food other than palate-cleansing crackers, also which were provided, and I walked in to a full, beautifully plated spread of thoughtful food accompaniments. While tourists stopping in Buenos Aires and attending a tasting might find, for example, the Persicco sorbets served delicious, I appreciated knowing that it really was the best of Buenos Aires and Argentina we were consuming.

Below is a detailed list of the five wine and traditional tapas food pairings at the tasting I attended. If you notice, as far as Malbecs go, we only tried a blend. The reasoning? Many people already identify Argentina with excellent Malbecs, Sarah said, while people are less aware of the other quality wines the Mendoza region produces, and that is what Anuva Wines is focused on showcasing.

  1. Hom Espumante sparkling wine + a modified Waldorf salad on crackers
  2. Carinae Torrontés + two Persicco fruit sorbets, orange-peach and frutiera
  3. Mairena Bonarda + a traditional picada with a slice of Fontina, Romanito and salamin and longaniza meats
  4. San Gimignano Syrah Roble + a beef empanada, carne cortada a cuchillo from La Fidanzata
  5. Caluna Blend + two Aguila dark chocolates, one from Ecuador and the other from Costa de Marfil

Anuva Wines is not run by sommeliers, rather just individuals who love Argentina, Argentine wines and want to share that with others. In the end, I think it all works to their advantage and makes for a thoughtful, fun 1.5 hours of enjoying wines without any pretension. I highly recommend attending the Anuva Wines tasting, for those of you visiting Buenos Aires (especially if you do not have a chance to make it to Mendoza) as well as those staying long-term.

In addition to tastings, Anuva Wines also sells its select Argentine wines online, (available for purchase in the U.S. at very affordable prices) runs a wine club and stocks a number of establishments in the U.S. with top Argentine wines. Cheers to that!


Casa Felix in Buenos Aires

The next photo feature installment of a Buenos Aires closed-door restaurant is Casa Felix, run by husband and wife team, Diego (from Argentina) and Sanra (from the U.S.). The pair craft pescatarian menus, a rarity in Buenos Aires, and use local, fresh products, many of which come from their personal garden.

Says Sanra in my Buenos Aires closed-door restaurants BBC article: “Our main objective has always been to conduct culinary investigations, look for and document interesting lesser known foodstuffs and present them in our South American-inspired cuisine.”

Diego and Sanra of Casa Felix with their newborn

From the back patio of Casa Felix

Homemade bread and white bean spread, photo snapped by my friend K. Josephson

Casa Felix menu for the evening

First course, "autumn locro"

Exotic mushroom empanada appetizer

Calamari shepherd's pie with red pepper and aguaribay sauce, shaved fennel

Dessert, phyllo-wrapped "warm vigilante" with quince and cheese

Artwork on the back patio of Diego and Sanra's home, Casa Felix

To see photos from Casa Mun, click here, or here to read the original TKGO post about the piece.


European (Tobacco) Segregation

In the U.S., it’s common to have a designated smoking section in a public outdoor area. Before legislation was passed in the past few years, there were once even glass-walled areas inside restaurants that let a smoker know where he was welcome.

Though the end of the age of the smoker is near in America, it is very much alive in Europe! Check out this “non-smoking area” on a train station platform in Vienna–a glass box with chairs inside!




On the Road Again

My blogging silence ends with my recent arrival in eastern Europe. I write from the desk of the Hotel Le Meridien in Vienna at midnight. My room overlooks the opera house from behind the hotel sign’s lettering. How poetic.


Today was the first in Vienna after a three-day stint in Prague–too short, but anyone would agree a few days is better than none at all. Tomorrow brings a tour of some of Vienna’s most famous landmarks, including the Spanish Riding School, the last of its kind to mandate the rider wear traditional Spanish garb on horseback. The following day it’s onward; Budapest awaits.

Expect a few small updates before you get the full download on my return… But we all know Europe is not the U.S. When it comes to putting free wi-fi in every corner of the city and on trains, none can compete. I will update when I can, but you can also check out our Tumblr and Twitter, where I have also been dropping photos and tidbits.

Until then, auf wiedersehen!


Casa Mun in Buenos Aires

One of the closed-door restaurants featured in my BBC travel piece, Casa Mun, is a relative newcomer to the scene. Chef Mun served his first dinner in March, and has been filling his Saturday evening reservations since then. I have so far been twice and have plans to return this coming Saturday to indulge in Mun’s perfected Asian fusion cuisine. (Yes, it’s that good.) Below are photos from my first two meals at Casa Mun.

Casa Mun communal seating


Vegetable tempura

Chilean salmon sashimi, maki sushi, California rolls

Fiery fish tacos

Korean Bibimbap

Torta Alfajor Rogel